I spent much of my life accumulating possessions and ideas, and trying to keep them organized. I collected books, clothes, tools, memories, stories, articles, notes, awards, and odd objects. I alphabetized, categorized, punched, bound, and filed. I arranged and rearranged. I bought containers, shelves, and bins.
I have read and re-read David Allen’s Getting Things Done to the point where it wore out and I had to buy a new copy, and I use his system carefully. I have the capacity for hyperfocus, the flip side of my bizarrely distracted mind, and so I am able to adhere to systems if I obsess.
But still, despite my organization, there was always too much mental noise in the house, a busy clutter that meant everywhere I looked there was something undone, half forgotten, or completely perplexing.
Recently, therefore, the past two years or so, I have also been spending a lot of time just getting rid of things. I have cleaned out my closets, thrown out half my books, tossed files from old jobs, and shredded bags and bags of saved paperwork no one will ever ask to see again. Last year, I finally tossed all my fieldwork notes for the dissertation I defended twenty years ago. I spent a summer going through my late mother’s possessions in the basement.
Getting rid of things is fun, and cathartic. I like to re-read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Throwing Stuff Out (I mean, of Tidying Up) regularly because it’s so entertaining.
And most of my stuff I was keeping just in case.
Just in case what? In case someone might challenge my claim to exist, to have done things, or to have gone places? In case I myself forgot I had lived a life? Or in case someone would want to house my donated archives? I realized it was proof of my existence.
I don’t need evidence. I’m right here, proof of my own existence.
And I am realizing, now that I’ve tossed everything except the things I’m actually planning to use, that I feel organized. Everywhere I look right now, as I write this, I know what everything is and what I plan to do with it.
I have closed off all the paths to alternate realities, I have abandoned past opportunities, and I have ignored futures I’m not interested in visiting.
Excuse me. I’m going to go read, because when I tossed most of the hopeful, possible books on my to-be-read shelf, all of a sudden the ones that were left were perfect. I can’t wait to read them.